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Kate Middleton at 40: A look back at her evolution and impact on the royals

As Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, hits a landmark birthday, take a look at how far she’s come.
/ Source: TODAY

There’s a royal birthday just around the corner. On Sunday, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, turns 40.

It’s a milestone celebration that comes as she nears other major milestones. When her father-in-law, Prince Charles, becomes king, she will become the Princess of Wales, as Princess Diana was before her. And when her husband, Prince William, inherits the throne, she will become the queen consort.

The Duchess of Cambridge at the Earthshot Prize 2021 at Alexandra Palace on Oct. 17, 2021 in London. Max Mumby / Getty Images

Those are roles the former Kate Middleton has anticipated since she first joined Britain’s royal family, and when looking back at her life, especially the decade since she married William, it’s clear to see that they’re also roles she’s growing into.

Catherine stepped into the spotlight when she and William were still in their school days. The two met in 2001, while students at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and although they started dating soon after that, it was a lengthy courtship that even included a brief breakup.

William and Catherine smile following their marriage at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011 in London. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

But on April 29, 2011, she and her prince were wed at Westminster Abbey, in the most spectacular royal wedding ceremony since Charles and Diana before them. And since then, her every move has brought her closer to her royal destiny.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stand with their children, Prince Louis, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during Trooping the Colour, the queen's annual birthday parade, on June 8, 2019. Max Mumby / Getty Images

She's now the mother to three more heirs to the throne, with Prince George, 8, Princess Charlotte, 6, and Prince Louis, 3.

“I think family is everything to Kate,” author Katie Nicholl, who wrote the 2013 book “Kate: The Future Queen,” said in a segment that aired on TODAY Friday. "Clearly, we see her as a dutiful and loving wife, a royal who is really stepping up to her role as the future Princess of Wales."

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine at the annual Remembrance Sunday service at The Cenotaph on Nov. 10, 2019 in London. Max Mumby / Getty Images

But Kate’s duties go far beyond family, especially now that there are fewer senior royals since the transatlantic departure of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.“They are more high profile than ever,” Nicholl said of both the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. “And I think we’re seeing them being entrusted with much more responsibility by the queen and the senior royals.”

As such, Kate has devoted herself to royal duties alongside other members of the family, as well as stepping out into the spotlight with her own initiatives that have seen her focus on children in their early years.

Kate helps the 105th Glasgow Scouts celebrate the Scout Associations #PromiseToThePlanet campaign during a visit to Alexandra Park Sports Hub on day two of COP26 on Nov. 1, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland.Victoria Stewart / Getty Images

According to NBC News royal commentator Daisy McAndrew, “If we can judge how she feels by how she behaves and by how she looks, I think she looks supremely confident. ... If you observe her since she first came into the public eye all those years ago, since her wedding 10 years ago, and now, she’s a very different being.”

With her position, she has been able to meet with important figures, like first lady Jill Biden, whom she had the chance to get to know during the 2021 G-7 summit in Cornwall, England. 

Catherine and Jill Biden during a visit to Connor Downs Academy, during the G-7 summit on June 11, 2021 in Hayle, England.Aaron Chown / Getty Images

And while official duties have elevated her image, so have her more glamorous efforts, such as the moment she hit the red carpet looking luminescent in a gold gown for the premiere of the latest James Bond film, "No Time To Die."  

Catherine attended the "No Time To Die" world premiere at Royal Albert Hall on Sept. 28, 2021 in London. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

"Her popularity has soared," McAndrew explained. "She is now the third most popular member of the royal family, after the queen and her husband, William."

And that popularity will likely continue to soar as she continues to surprise and impress the public, as she did last month, when she played the piano at "Royal Carols: Together at Christmas," a concert she also spearheaded.

Catherine accompanied singer Tom Walker on the piano during a performance of his song "For Those Who Can't Be Here" during "Royal Carols: Together At Christmas." Alex Bramall / Getty Images

As McAndrew put it, "I think we really see a woman who’s come into her own, understands the role that she has to fulfill and is doing it to the best of her ability."